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Tips For Buying a Meerschaum Pipe


Ted
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 Ted
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In response to a question from @nach0, I thought I would share some basics from my experience about picking a good meerschaum pipe.

Obviously, so that I don’t end up writing a book here, I’m going to generalize quite a bit. Also, I’m not saying that I am the end all, be all authority on this subject, but I do have many decades of experience with meerschaums and own a lot of them. Your experience may vary.

First thing, a good meerschaum pipe is going to cost more than a good briar pipe. You can get many different brands of good briar pipes in the $100US to $250 range new. Good meerschaum pipes are generally going to be in the $200 to $450 range new. Used ones can be a great option to save money if that is a concern. I often see good ones in nice condition selling for $80 to $150 on the used market and sometimes even better deals show up.

Some things to look for-

Brand. There are a number of established brands that produce reliably good to great pipes. I will list a few that I have experience with. Not a comprehensive list.

AKB

Tekin

IMP

KOC

Star

Altinay and

Black Meerschaum among others

There are a lot of no brand, cheaper and often smaller pressed meerschaum pipes available, often for as little as $30 and as much as $175. They are almost always a waste of money.

Style of pipe. This is obviously a matter of taste and preference, but there is one style that I wouldn’t necessarily encourage anyone to buy. That is the most often seen Poker style pipes with metal or various material stems that fit right into the bowl. No shank essentially. These are common and slightly lower cost than most more traditional meerschaum pipes, but consider that the majority of the handling of moisture in a pipe takes place in the bottom of the bowl, shank and stem. To get the full benefits of a meerschaum, the shank plays a significant role in absorbing moisture.

Block vs pressed meerschaum. “Block” is essentially carved from a naturally occurring chunk of meerschaum. Pressed is a bit of a complicated thing, but let’s just say for this discussion that it’s reformed into a block or pipe from meerschaum dust. If a pipe is not specified as “block”, it’s safe to assume it’s pressed. If it’s advertised as “block” it might be. Reputation of the maker matters. Most pipes in what I listed as the good price range are block. Many people deride pressed meerschaum and it doesn’t give the same level moisture handling as block, but it can still be a fine smoke. One big consideration, if you’re hoping to get cool coloring on your pipe, you want block. Pressed doesn’t color very much, if at all.

Be careful buying directly from pipe makers directly online or on Etsy, etc. unless they are an established brand. They commonly show photos of nice pipes for sale, but what they don’t make clear is that they will make a pipe for you like the one pictured. They generally fail at making one as nice or with the same specs as the one you thought you were getting. This isn’t always the case, but more often than not. If you do, make sure to verify that you will be getting the exact same pipe as pictured.

This is about all I can think of off the top of my head as the big points to consider. Ask any questions and I will elaborate. Also I’m curious to hear other people’s experiences with their meerschaum pipe buying.

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nach0
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i´ve seen some briar pipes with the bowl(inside part) made of meerschaum, what you think about that?

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Ted
 Ted
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Meerschaum lined bowls smoke without the flavor of the briar (mostly, I can still notice a little from moisture buildup in the shank) and don’t need to be broken in, but that’s it. There’s no real comparison to a meerschaum pipe in my experience. 

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ThinkinPipe
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Is this different than of the calabash with the cups?

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Ted
 Ted
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Very different. A calabash is traditionally made from a piece of a gourd. The meerschaum cup sits high inside the gourd, leaving a substantial air space in which the smoke first collects allowing it to cool more rapidly than in any type of pipe I know of. The second thing is that gourds are rather absorbent and capture most of the moisture, creating a nice dry smoke. Even the ones made out of wood instead of a gourd collect moisture well. It’s really the large airspace/smoke chamber that makes a calabash what it is as far as smoking goes. 

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Nick R
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I only have one meerschaum. I am not fond of it. It smokes very poorly. The stem imparts a rather unpleasant plastic taste as well. I am wondering if I fell into one of the pitfalls Ted listed. It was about $160 US and I wish I had spent it on a nice briar. I would love to get a nicer one at somepoint- Any favorite online retailers?

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Ted
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It’s only a guess since I don’t have the pipe in front of me, but I believe you are getting a plastic taste because of the length of the shank and therefore the placement of the supposed to be nylon sleeve inside of it that the stem slides into. It may also be installed too deep further causing issues. If that fitting is too close to the vent hole in the bowl, it can heat up more than it was meant to and release an odor. Those supposed to be nylon fittings are usually fine, but in rare cases can be a problem. Many higher end makers have moved away from using them entirely. I don’t think I even have any nicer, newer pipes that have them. The way the stem is connected can definitely be an indicator of the quality of the pipe. I have also encountered bad acrylic that was mixed improperly? that would emit an odor when warmed. I have only ever encountered this once. Both situations, whichever it may be are fixable, but…

Many meerschaum churchwardens I see are priced reasonably, such as yours was, but the reason they are is because it’s a way for the pipe maker to utilize a chunk of meerschaum that was too small to create a stummel for a regular pipe. A churchwarden can often look appropriate with an undersized stummel. This is common with briar churchwardens as well. 

I don’t think SRV is a bad brand, but I believe they source their pipes from many different carvers. I have seen Tekin pipes sold under their name for example. 

I have extremely good feelings about Black Meerschaum, which is easily found in a search. The owner is an avid pipe smoker himself and the smoking quality of the pipes he carries are his first concern. Unfortunately, most Turkish pipe makers don’t actually smoke pipes, they are carvers first and foremost. 

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Nick R
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Thanks Ted! It does have a poorly fitting nylon stem sleeve and the stems never fit snuggly into the shank.  I will look at Black Meerschaum!

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Lee
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Great post!

When I was buying my first meerschaum, recently, I did a fair amount of research. I came to the conclusion that, as I probably wasn’t going to be buying very many, I might as well splash out on one made by a reputable company. I prepared by asking my family for hard cash at Christmas! 😄

Regular readers will already know that I bought an IMP bent apple. It’s my favourite pipe for a few reasons. I think it looks cool (though aesthetics are subjective) and it’s very convenient (no drying time or reaming). But, most importantly, tobacco tastes even better when smoked in it!

I also bought a cheaper, vintage meerschaum off eBay. It’s a good little pipe but, unfortunately, I can still taste the home of the previous owner, (might be mothballs - Ted gave me that idea! 😄) Meerschaum is certainly absorbent!

I would recommend a meerschaum to any pipe smoker and I agree with everything Ted has written about them here.

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ThinkinPipe
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Meerschaum is a think I have been curious about but kind of avoided due to price. I think I have to get at least one soonish.

 

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Ted
 Ted
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They are a bit of an investment compared to briar for sure. The unfortunate part is there are plenty of affordable meerschaum pipes, especially on the second hand market, often unsmoked, but until one has at least some experience with meerschaums, it can be difficult to know which lower priced ones are good ones. Some people end up getting a low quality one as their first and then are turned off to them in general, never having really experienced what they are. 

If you do start looking, if you post what you’re looking at I’d be happy to give you my thoughts on each one if it would be any help. 

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Lee
 Lee
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You’ve given me an idea for a new topic 😊

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ugdabug
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I too was going to look into a meerschaum so Ted I may need your expertise as well. If your offer to give your thoughts on pics extends to others, I'll take you up on that. 

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Ted
 Ted
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Absolutely! I’m quite passionate about meerschaums as you can probably tell and I enjoy helping people get the most out of them. 

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ugdabug
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How about something like this. It says it's block meerschaum but you said don't go too cheap. 

https://www.royalmeerschaumpipes.com/diplomat-oval-shank-meerschaum-pipe-P321607/

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ugdabug
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ugdabug
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ugdabug
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No rush here.

Just throwing some stuff at you.

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Ted
 Ted
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I’d stay away from this one, cast meerschaum I believe. Not likely to be a great smoker. 

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Ted
 Ted
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I don’t see anything wrong with this one at all, but note it had a smaller bowl, so I would caution to make sure that’s what you want. I believe that is the reason it’s lower priced. 

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ugdabug
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Yes it looks shorter and more wide open which I guess means it might burn differently?

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ugdabug
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When you say "this one" I'm having trouble figuring which one you're referring to.

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Ted
 Ted
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I’m realizing my posts are linking directly to yours. The very first one is the one I said looked fine but small bowl. The second one with the blue stem, I would encourage caution, the photos don’t appear to be of the actual pipe you would be receiving. The last one I would stay away from. If you post others, post them as a reply on the thread rather than a reply to a comment, that way when I reply it will be attached to the specific one. 

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Ted
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@ugdabug this one is an example of when a probably decent and good block meerschaum pipe would be cheaper. The carvers end up with smaller pieces of meerschaum and they don’t have enough to work with to make a full size pipe in either the shank or the bowl so they do the most they can and sell it cheaper. That’s usually what to look for in better quality lower cost pipes, because something is different to make it cheaper. 

https://www.royalmeerschaumpipes.com/diplomat-oval-shank-meerschaum-pipe-P321607/

 

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ugdabug
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Seeing a lot of "MBSD" on ebay.

Any good?

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Ted
 Ted
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I just looked over their listings, they seem like good quality pipes at good prices. People seem to be happy with them and I saw a number of them that looked really good for the price. I personally wouldn’t have any concerns with them. 

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ugdabug
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Thx a bunch Ted. I'll try to leave you alone for a bit now. 😀

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Juan José Pascual Lobo
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Ismail Baglan. Is it good?. Prices are high!

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Ted
 Ted
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A noted carver that some people collect so that has driven up prices especially depending on the carving. Fine pipes, I think I have one or two. But they aren’t going to necessarily smoke any better than a comparable quality pipe by a lesser known carver. 

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https://www.meerschaumstore.com/product-page/tekin-meerschaum-floral-eagle-claw-pipe

been looking at this for quite some time. Any thoughts on this. I already own a Tekin and it’s by far my favourite pipe. Followed by the smaller Al pascia meerschaum then the briars.

 

if this comes in to the rotation, I will use it to smoke English and everything else and oh boy… the briars will almost be non existent in my rotation 

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Ted
 Ted
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Only thing I can say about it is that it looks like a nicely made pipe. The carving and finish quality looks really well done. I would give it a 👍

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Lee
 Lee
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Looks awesome! 😄 Made by a reputable company too, so should be good quality.

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